Kiermaier takes cautious approach but hopes to return to Blue Jays’ lineup soon

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider talks to the media about Kevin Kiermaier leaving the game against the Minnesota Twins with discomfort after making two taxing throws from the outfield.

MINNEAPOLIS – As soon as Kevin Kiermaier tried to throw Willi Castro out at the plate in the first inning of Saturday’s game, he suspected his lower back wasn’t quite right. An inning later, when he attempted to stop Kyle Farmer from scoring on an Edouard Julien double, all doubt was removed.

By the second throw I was not feeling good at all,” he recalled. “I knew I did something to tick something off down here.”

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Upon returning to the dugout, Kiermaier told Blue Jays manager John Schneider he could stay in the game and bunt. But realizing his centre-fielder was compromised physically, Schneider inserted Cavan Biggio into the game instead.

I knew that I was going to have to come out of the game, which I’m not proud of, but these things can linger,” Kiermaier said.

The Blue Jays are hoping that’s not the case in this instance, as Kiermaier has been – without exaggeration – one of their best players so far this season. By Sunday morning, he was already describing the affected area as ‘a lot better’ and expressing hope that he’ll be ‘ready to roll Tuesday.’ Still, after a stretch of 17 games in as many days, a scheduled off day Monday couldn’t come at a better time for the Blue Jays and their centre-fielder.

“Unfortunately the best thing for it is time,” the 33-year-old said. “I want to play. I want to be out there. But I want this to be ‘you miss a couple games’ rather than more.”

On Sunday, Daulton Varsho covered centre field, making a spectacular catch to rob Carlos Correa of a home run after two near-misses at the wall Saturday. Varsho also threw a runner out at third base, reminding all involved of his defensive acumen. Should Kiermaier need more time, the Blue Jays can certainly cover the position.

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But their preference is clear. Not only is Kiermaier a three-time Gold Glove winner, he’s hitting .319 with four home runs, five stolen bases and an .877 OPS. His bat plays well at the bottom of the order and he makes an impact on the bases, but the Blue Jays aren’t inclined to rush him.

“He was doing better,” Schneider said Sunday afternoon. “With the off day, I wanted to be a little bit conservative with him. All things are trending in the right direction. We’ll see how it goes and see how he comes in on Tuesday.”

Hip injuries limited Kiermaier to 63 games in 2022, when he didn’t play after July 9. The previous year he played in 122 games with Tampa Bay.

Monday’s off day will also provide welcome rest for Alejandro Kirk, who was behind the plate for at least part of each of the last five days. That exceeds his max of three consecutive days caught from last year, but the Blue Jays need Kirk at a time that Danny Jansen’s on the injured list.

As for Kiermaier, the prognosis is truly day to day at this point. With right-handers Adrian Houser, Julio Teheran and Freddy Peralta slated to pitch for Milwaukee, there’s no obvious time to rest the left-handed hitting Kiermaier. But they’ll want to manage his workload carefully as the schedule calls for 13 games in 13 days following the off day.

One third of the way through the season, the Blue Jays have reason to be thrilled with Kiermaier’s contributions. To make sure the remaining two thirds of the season are as productive as possible, some caution makes sense for now.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Kiermaier said. “My low back and hips have caused me a lot of grief over the years. And I felt great (Saturday) until that one movement. It definitely threw a wrench in my plans and my day in general, but I’m just going to accept it, move on, and I’ll be good to go.”

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